THE BLOG
10/21/2014 12:35 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2014

My Picky Eater Refuses to Eat What I Make!

Our 12 year old daughter disrupts our household over FOOD! I love to cook, and have told her to pick anything in the world for dinner and I'd make it. Guess what ? Hmmm, she can't come up with anything! Help!

This is a great example of having a different problem than the one it appears you have. In other words, while it looks as though your issue is about your daughter's dietary leanings, my guess is that it is not going to be fixed by determining her favorite foods. Here are my thoughts:

Stop trying to please. I know how hard it is to pour heart and soul into cooking up a delicious feast, only to have it rejected by the fickle palate of its intended recipient. But desperate efforts to produce a meal to your daughter's liking are likely to backfire. Which leads me to the next point...

Figure out the difference between a need and a preference. While you may prefer that your daughter enjoys the meals you prepare, ask yourself if you need her to. It is never a good idea to make our happiness dependent on our child's behavior.

Make healthy options available. At twelve, your daughter is probably able to scramble some eggs or make a sandwich. Keep healthy ingredients in the house, and encourage her to get creative with them. Perhaps she'll even take a cooking class with you!

Don't care. Years ago, I was treated by a very wise acupuncturist. Whenever I expressed concern or anxiety about a situation, he delivered these two pieces of advice: "Don't care" and "None your business." The less invested you are in controlling your daughter's dining habits, the more room you'll create for her to figure out what she wants to eat.

Ease up. Meal time should be about being together rather than watching to see that our children eat everything on their plates. There's a good chance that if you stop fussing over what your daughter eats, she'll naturally come to feel her hunger and be motivated find something on the table or in the fridge to eat.

There is something immensely satisfying about feeding our children. Even today, I take great pleasure in serving a home-cooked meal to my son when he comes around -- and he is now six foot five and 24 years old! But power struggles over food are never a good idea. Be patient. Your daughter may end up turning into a gourmet chef just like her mom!

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

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